Darien’s 4x4 breaks school record, then wins FCIAC gold
Darien’s boys 4x400 relay team has a bit of a secret weapon.
Actually, it’s not much of a secret, since their opponents can see what’s coming. But the truth is, for seniors Austin Dehmel, Alec Armstrong, Jacob Grimm and Jack Holly, their best weapon is the competition they get from each other.
“We don’t have one guy on this relay who stands out ahead of the others,” Dehmel said. “In practice, we’re competing against each other to finish first, and every day, it’s someone new.”
The four Blue Wave runners are picking up steam as well.
During the past three weeks, they broke an old Darien High School record which had stood for 38 years, claimed the FCIAC East Division title, and, last Thursday in New Haven, captured the FCIAC 4x400 championship by more than six seconds, winning with a time of 3:34.30.
It’s been a whirlwind time for the four runners, who are looking to keep their well-oiled machine humming along in the coming weeks.
“The essential thing is that we continue to have high aspirations,” Grimm said. “At the time, we were really excited about getting the school record and that felt awesome for all of us, but we continue to have high aspirations for the rest of the season.”
“Our ultimate goal is Nationals,” Holly said. “We all have our individual goals, but we want to keep the hard work and the teamwork going. That’s the most important thing.”
The record-setting day came in one of the most prestigious track and field arenas in the United States: The Armory in New York City. The six-lane banked track is ideal for elite competitions, and the atmosphere was electric for the Bullis Champion Speed Invitational in January.
That day, Dehmel, Armstrong, Grimm and Holly teamed up to finish fourth against some top-level national competition, posting a time of 3:32.41. That broke the old Blue Wave record which had been set back in 1982.
As the final event of the meet, the 4x400 relay attracted plenty of eyes.
“It’s been really exhilarating,” Armstrong said. “At the Armory, it was really high stakes. There were a lot of people there, everybody’s watching and it’s the last event, so there’s a lot of hype around it. We just went out there, we all felt good, and it was a lot of fun to get the record at such a cool place.”
At the FCIAC East meet on Feb. 1, Darien won the relay at 4x375, finishing in 3:31.27
Five days later at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven, the Wave runners came through with a time of 3:34.30, winning by a wide margin over Staples, which was second in 3:40.83.
Holly ran the final leg and had a good lead coming down the stretch, as his teammates awaited.
“We saw Holly coming down the stretch and there was like 20 meters in front, so we were all just like ‘let’s go!’” Armstrong said. “That was my first time being All-FCIAC and watching him come down and secure the gold was just a great feeling.”
“The main duty of the fourth leg is just to keep us in the race and get that little bit extra at the end,” Holly said. “As far as the fourth leg goes, it’s the time to put in the work and finish off the race strong.”
Dehmel had a bit of an adjustment to make to his spot in the lineup this winter. He ran the third leg last year and this year, has batted leadoff on the first leg. With his 52.37 at the FCIAC meet, Dehmel was able to give the Wave an early lead, which Armstrong and Grimm expanded before the baton finally went to Holly.
“I wasn’t used to (running first) coming into this year, but it’s really a lot of fun,” Dehmel said. “I want to get my teammates a big lead and hopefully, even though it’s great competition, I can get out there and give them some time.
“It’s really fun being able to start it off, catch your breath and then watch everybody else run. It’s cheering everyone on but also trying not to fall over and pass out,” he added with a smile.
With a school record and FCIAC gold behind them, the Wave runners will bid for a title at the Class L meet in New Haven on Saturday, with the State Open, the New Englands and possible the Nationals beyond.
As always, they’re setting their sights high.
“We’re looking forward to finishing off the winter season very strong,” Grimm said. “We hope to break the record again, set the bar even higher and make it harder to break. We hope it lasts as long as it did previously.”
Darien’s Nick Balenzano was thinking big when he headed into the long jump competition during last Thursday’s FCIAC track and field championships. Seeded third, the senior was feeling good about his chances when he hit a bit of a speed bump early on.
“On my first jump, I got a foul, so immediately I had the nerves kicking in,” Balenzano said. “In the long jump, your steps have to be so precise and accurate every single time, you have to be consistent, so you can’t let the nerves get to you.”
If Balenzano was nervous, it certainly didn’t hold him back.
Focusing on technique and form, Balenzano hit 21 feet, 0.5 inches on his next attempt, setting a personal record by more than six inches, a remarkable achievement at an opportune moment.
Balenzano’s jump kept him in first place until nearly the end of the competition, when Staples’ Connor McGeehan jumped 21 feet, 2.5 inches on his final attempt to take the gold.
Balenzano’s PR mark was good for second place.
“I would’ve liked to get first, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t seeded two and I wasn’t supposed to be All-FCIAC, so I was happy to pull that out,” Balenzano said. “And I can’t be mad about a half a foot PR.”
Balenzano, who set a Darien record in the 60-meter dash with a time of 7.34 seconds at the Armory two weeks ago, grabbed a third-place finish in the FCIAC’s 55-meter dash, finishing that final race in 6.73 seconds. Balenzano said a solid start to the race was the key as he’s usually not strong off the blocks.
“I was on par with everyone else in the field at the start,” Balenzano said. “That set me up perfectly for the rest of the race and I was able to finish third.”